Despite having good news to report on the cannabis legalization front, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper was visibly apprehensive when asked by Politico’s Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman to speak about his recent pow-wow with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
After blazing through a myriad of timely topics, like the changing demographics of Colorado, cyber security, and Russia’s continued efforts to hack America’s political system, Anna Palmer asked Gov. Hickenlooper the question that was high on everybody’s list: “You’ve met with the Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, who very clearly has a different position on pot and other drugs, what did you guys discuss?”
Authentic and plainspoken, Hickenlooper started by explaining to Palmer he wasn’t the only elected official in Colorado who opposed recreational legalization. “Well it’s not just me, almost every elected official I know opposed the initiative to legalize recreational marijuana.”
Consumed by nervous ignorance in 2012, Hickenlooper explained how he and his fellow politicians feared that legalization would lead to a spike in consumption among Colorado’s youth. Colorado’s politicians were reportedly concerned that misfits and stoners with elevated THC metabolite levels would cause carnage on the highways and byways while toddlers got baked on mom and dad’s unguarded stash.
According to the Colorado Gov., “The things we were most worried about, and I said this to the Attorney General, were a spike in consumption. Especially a spike among teenagers.”
Fortunately for all, that didn’t happen.
After explaining the ramifications of today’s highly potent strains on developing brains – while omitting any alcohol-related data – Gov. Hickenlooper noted, “none” of those fears materialized.
Hickenlooper noted, “We had a little increase among teenagers the first year, since then, it’s come down. Overall consumption has gone up just a little bit. But it’s almost all been in just one demographic – senior citizens.”
While the governor’s noteworthy observation got a chuckle from the crowd, Hickenlooper explained that senior tokers have turned to marijuana because it provides “more effective pain relief than opioids.”
During his conversation with Hickenlooper, Sessions acknowledged the Department of Justice (DOJ) lacks the resources for a full-blown war on weed, and that the DOJ has “higher priorities.”
After telling Gov. Hickenlooper, “were not going to come in and shut everything down,” the Atty. Gen. then gave one ominous caveat. “If we have to make an example of some companies or some individuals, then that’s what we’ll do,” said Sessions according to Hickenlooper.
Jake Sherman then asked the $64 million question of the governor, “Based on the tax revenue, would you recommend other states do what you guys did in Colorado and legalize marijuana?” Quick to respond, Hickenlooper, who was originally opposed to legalization, didn’t think it was worth it, at least “not for the money.”
Hickenlooper said, “I told every other governor that, if I was in their place, I would wait a year or two – there’s no big rush.”
On a recent trip to speak before the California assembly, Hickenlooper offered Gov. Jerry Brown some sage advice that’s applicable to any state considering legalizing marijuana – establish your baseline data now.
Hickenlooper told Brown, “Make sure you’re measuring right now anytime you have a fatality on the highway and it looks like it’s human error, and that person died. Make sure to take a blood test for marijuana, in addition to alcohol. It costs a little bit more money, but not much. Make sure you have as good a baseline as you can of how much damage is going on in the existing system before you go into a new system.”
Fun facts: In 2002, 351 drivers under the age of 65 died on Colorado’s highways. In 2016, four years after legalization, 219 drivers died in an automobile crash. Representing an 11% decrease in Colorado’s traffic fatalities, legalization has saved lives and generated revenue. Between 2014 – 2017, the state of Colorado has raised more than $141,064,563 via their 15% excise tax on recreational marijuana, $216,560,926 from their 10% special sales tax on adult use marijuana, and an additional $62,081,092 from a 2.9% sales tax on recreational cannabis.